For some time, there has been a level of overall dissatisfaction with the traditional IT hardware supply routes to market, mainly due to the discrepancy between market offerings, which has left a huge void between two polar-opposite options. One end of the spectrum is dominated by large multinational companies who seem like safe bets, with their household names and resources, but in many cases farm out both service and manufacture.
At the other end are small independent companies who offer partial solutions, sometimes with software or solely with hardware, but don’t have the means of offering full service, and hence also end up outsourcing jobs to middlemen. This variety and lack of consistency across the market means that many retailers repeatedly encounter difficulties when looking to upgrade or implement new IT solutions. Here are some of the most frequently encountered IT procurement issues for retailers.
Not fit for purpose
Many IT procurement issues stem from the same cause: receiving bad, incorrect, or misleading advice, leading to purchases which are simply not fit for purpose. Receiving poor advice at the beginning of a project often leads to time-consuming, long-term complications in the future, unexpected additional costs and worst case scenario, total project implementation failure. For this reason, it is important to fully understand the experience, capabilities and service quality of any IT suppliers before entering into a partnership, like you would with any other contractor. Look for well-established professionals with extensive portfolios and a reputable clientele who can vouch for the standard of their work. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak with previous clients if at all possible, or alternatively view their case studies and testimonials.
When it is clear that a project or partnership is not delivering what is required, it may be necessary to seek an alternative supplier to pick up the reigns and see the job through to completion. Although this is often a necessary move, deciding to pull the plug on a project mid-progress is likely to result in substantial additional costs, project delays and administration nightmares. Whilst this scenario can never be completely avoided, the risks of this happening can be greatly reduced by having a clear project plan with precise deliverables and SLA’s in place at various checkpoints along the way. This means that progress can be measured and any issues will become apparent much earlier on this project, where it is far easier to make switches or to stop the project completely whilst you source an alternative supplier. Again, finding a provider who has specific experience in delivering similar projects in terms of budget, scope and timescales, is likely to result in a good match and a good overall service experience.
We live in a time when technology is progressing at a faster rate than ever before, where new hardware and software is continually appearing and pushing older technologies out of favour. Because of this constant progress, particularly in the retail technology space, it is natural and common for retailers to feel that they have to be constantly on-trend, and implement new solutions that come along, regardless of how well-suited or necessary they are to the core needs of the company. New hardware is a big commitment with many strings attached, and so it should never be adopted spontaneously: it should be a carefully-considered fixture in a wider, well-planned business strategy. Retailers should of course look to be innovative, but only when it meets the needs of both their customers and their overall business direction. Otherwise that latest purchase of nifty devices will simply end up gathering dust in the corner of the stockroom.
Lack of preparation
When a new technology is latched onto with unrealistic expectations, or another big project is started, the most common issue that arises is lack of adequate preparation. When dealing with multi-store roll outs, new store launches, international expansion or existing site upgrades, many considerations need to be taken into account when it comes to choices of hardware. Stock availability of chosen devices, networking/wifi quality at locations, compatibility with legacy equipment, training required by staff, maintenance and ongoing support required, lifespan of the equipment and likely future support required from manufacturers in terms of parts etc. are all aspects that need consideration and go far further than simply choosing a particular hardware option. This is why working with a supplier that fully understands your situation and requirements is so essential, as they will be able to ask the right questions at the right time, avoiding issues later on in the schedule where delays or changes in plans may be extremely costly.
When retailers decide to purchase hardware directly from one of the major well-known brands, they understandably assume that further work and support will come directly from the manufacturer. The reality is that most brands have their hardware manufactured via outsourcing, often to a number of different companies. Once this is acknowledged, the value that the brand can offer is essentially just efficient management of their independent manufacturers. Herein lies a crucial issue, as a single model may have its various components manufactured at different sites, and this is where the risk of inconsistency appears. Even if no continuity errors emerge between the separate sites, it can be a complex format to roll changes out to. We often hear that inflexibility and inconsistency are key gripes for clients, so having an unbiased, independent supplier, who can act as a single source is key for both visibility and the ability to ensure that improvements can be applied quickly and consistently.
In conclusion, the sporadic offerings of the IT marketplace make it easy for retailers to find themselves facing challenges and issues that they didn’t expect, plan or budget for. As we have identified, most issues begin at the planning phase, so it is important to really take the time to ensure the right decisions are made at the start of the project, including choosing the right suppliers. A combination of smart preparation, suitable suppliers and a streamlined project management process which includes regular checkpoints with accountability from all involved is the key to achieving IT procurement success in 2018.
Rob Griffiths, Division Manager of BMc Equip
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa